KYOTO – The eyes of the rugby world will be on Kyoto this week, as Japan’s ancient capital hosts the draw for the 2019 World Cup.
World Rugby Hall of Famer Yoshihiro Sakata and Olympic wrestling legend Saori Yoshida will be among the presenters at Wednesday’s draw at the iconic Kyoto State Guest House in the grounds of Kyoto Gyoen National Garden as the four groups of five teams will be determined.
The reception on Tuesday evening was scheduled to be held at Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, but expected poor weather has forced the Japan Rugby 2019 organizing committee to change the venue to a hotel in the western Japanese city.
The top three teams from each pool at the 2015 Rugby World Cup automatically qualified for the 2019 tournament and have been split into three bands based on their current world rankings.
New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland make up the first band, Scotland, France, South Africa and Wales are in the second, with Argentina, Japan, Georgia and Italy in the third.
The remaining eight teams — who will be determined via a global qualification process that began on March 5, 2016, when Jamaica defeated Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 48-0 — have been divided into two further bands.
The four pools will contain one randomly selected team from each band.
“Japan is preparing to welcome the world,” said Japan Rugby 2019 CEO Akira Shimazu. “We are committed to Rugby World Cup and we’re aiming to deliver the best yet. It will be a celebration of rugby and of Japanese culture as we will show off the best of our country and our hospitality on a global stage. The last World Cup was a great success but our task is not to emulate England but to make it a very Japanese event.”
Holding the draw so far ahead of the tournament, which runs from Sept. 20-Nov. 2, 2019, will allow the local organizing committee plenty of time to work out which of the 12 venues will host which games, with the full match schedule set to be released in November this year.
Ticket sales are the host nation’s only source of income from the event with everything else going to Rugby World Cup Ltd.
As such, Japan Rugby 2019 will want to make sure games featuring the host nation and fan favorites such as New Zealand and England will be played in the larger venues.
Meanwhile, matchups between some of the lower-ranked teams will be played in places such as Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, where the stadium is considerably smaller but where there is a fanatical rugby following.
“Milestones in 2017 will lay the foundation for the successful delivery of Rugby World Cup 2019 and none more so than the pool draw. It will be a major moment that will bring the tournament to life for the teams and fans around the world,” said World Rugby chairman and Hall of Famer Bill Beaumont, who along with Steve Hansen, coach of two-time defending champion New Zealand, will be among the other presenters at the draw.
“With an accessible ticketing program set to be announced later this year, it is important that our friends at the Japan Rugby 2019 organizing committee continue to ignite excitement throughout the host cities, who will be central to inspiring people to be a part of a once-in-a-lifetime event that has fan experience at its core,” said Beaumont.
Wednesday will also see the World Rugby Council decide whether to change the rules regarding the residential qualification period for test players.
As it stands, a player can play for a country after living there for three years providing he has not played “for the senior 15-a-side national representative team or the next senior 15-a-side national representative team or the senior national representative sevens team of (another) union.”
Member unions are set to raise that to five years, though the change would not be retrospective meaning players such as Willie Britz, Derek Carpenter, Sam Wykes and Hayden Cripps would all still be able to play for Japan once they have completed their three-year residency.
Among the other subjects being considered by the council is giving Japan, among other nations, one more vote as part of the wide-ranging reform of its governance structures.